Teach Your Child Self-Control
It sets a firm foundation for everything you teach your child.

I love to travel by airplane—until I get to the airport. Then it hits me: Oh no, I may be sitting next to a crying, screaming or unruly child attended by frustrated and embarrassed parents. This has happened to me a lot over the years. Let me say from the outset: A flight disrupted by ill-behaved children doesn’t make me angry—it makes me sad.

Besides trying to cope with the disruption for a few hours, I feel emotionally sick for the parents and children. Why? Things can and should be different. Traveling on an airplane should be a pleasant experience for parents, their children and all other passengers on the flight.

Ironically, Americans are big on child-rearing books. Every year, it seems, there is some new book with a different twist on how to raise children. A recent ad for a child-training book claimed: “The best book on child rearing ever.” The book—a bestseller (80,000 copies in print)—is in its second revision. But if American parents are so actively reading child-training manuals, why aren’t more American children better behaved in public—on buses, planes, trains; in parks, restaurants and stores? We all have witnessed children’s bad behavior in public—their rudeness, tantrums and disrespect of other people’s property.

This should tell us something.

Child-Training Books Deficient

If millions of people are reading the most popular child-rearing manuals, could there be some “missing dimension in knowledge” with such books?

Why are these books so popular? Deep down, parents know something is wrong with their child rearing. Yet merely reading books on the subject is not enough. Effective child training is time-consuming, hard work. Enslaved to careers, financial success and the pursuit of personal pleasure, many parents will not, or are too tired to, invest the time necessary to skillfully train their children. This is one of the greatest tragedies of our time.

How about you? Are you taking on the demanding rigors of child rearing? If you are a parent, it is your responsibility. “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully” (2 Corinthians 9:6). Parental success is measured by the behavior, happiness and success of the children produced. How hard are you working to reap a bountiful harvest with your children? Here is how you can tell.

Teach Self-Control

A great challenge in child rearing is to teach your child self-control, also known as self-discipline. Self-control is the firm foundation you must put in place to ensure your child’s future success. If your child does not have self-control, your child-rearing efforts simply will not bear fruit.

This is the missing dimension in knowledge lacking in most modern child-training manuals.

Most current manuals focus on protecting and developing a child’s creativity, intelligence or talents. Yet, self-control is more important than these attributes in fostering academic and career achievement.

Self-discipline is also necessary for your child to develop a sterling spiritual life, become a stable and contributing member of God’s Church, build a successful marriage, and avoid financial difficulties. Poor self-discipline can lead to alcohol or drug abuse, sexual immorality, and life-destroying criminal behavior.

Does your child have good self-control? If he or she is guilty of interrupting you constantly, being wild, not following instructions, not controlling his or her feet, hands or mouth, not sitting still and being quiet during Sabbath services, then your child lacks self-control. Psychologists would probably diagnose your child as having adhd and prescribe Ritalin. Yet the only effective solution to these impulsive behaviors is the exercise of self-control.

Modern psychologists believe children can learn self-control on their own. Don’t fall prey to that false philosophy! Self-control is learned through proper child training, parental supervision and practice. Solomon wisely taught that a child left to himself or herself will never develop self-control (Proverbs 29:15).

A child with self-discipline has an invaluable tool for meeting life’s challenges. Many relational and personal problems can be avoided or well restrained through self-control.

Here are four steps to inculcate this extremely important, indispensable skill.

1. Blanket training

Teaching a child to sit and play quietly or sleep on a blanket during Sabbath services has been a tradition in God’s Church for decades. This training not only stops noisy interruptions during services, it is also a foundational plank for building self-discipline in children.

Failing to apply this blanket training makes the teaching of self-discipline more difficult as children mature. Not blanket training shows a lack of love and respect for the brethren attending services with you and your family. God’s people need to attend services in undisturbed surroundings where they can hear God’s messages without regular interruption. Granted, there will be times when a disruption is unavoidable. Yet it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure noisy interruptions by their children are infrequent and dealt with immediately.

Blanket training is really simple. You should start blanket training when your child can sit up by himself, and definitely by the time he can crawl. (This assumes that you have already been teaching your child not to make noise during services.)

Practice each day by spreading a blanket on the floor and having your child sit on it quietly for about an hour. My wife always did her Bible study at the same time. Be sure to sit next to the child. When your child attempts to move off the blanket or makes noise, tell him “No!” once. Move the child back onto the blanket or give him a hand signal (forefinger against the lips) to be quiet. When your child moves off the blanket or makes noise a second time, discipline him or her. Continue the process until your child accepts the fact that he or she must remain on the blanket and be quiet. This is self-control in action.

2. Teach your child to come when called

Start teaching your child to come to you when he is walking securely on his own. If you have done blanket training, you’ll know that your child understands you.

My wife and I generally waited until our children were about 18 months before we began “come here” training. We set aside an evening to do this. We called them “come here nights.” I’ll be honest—this is a tough one.

Once children are up and running on their own, they do not appreciate being interrupted from what they are doing. To command them to come to you requires them to give up what they want to do and do what you want them to do. Children want to be their own authority. To submit to your authority requires self-discipline.

There is great advantage in teaching this skill at an early age. Your children will find it difficult to submit to God’s authority if they do not learn to submit to yours. Their physical and spiritual safety depends on obedience to direct commands.

Children under the age of 13 are required to remain in close proximity to their parents while at services, so teaching this skill is very important for both you and your child. If your child will not come to you when called, he or she will likely wander off at services, or in any public setting, which, in today’s world, can be dangerous.

On “come here nights,” I told my child to come here. I allowed my daughters a brief amount of time to hear, think and respond. If there was no action, to make sure she understood, I would ask either my wife or an older sister to come here, and she would do so, to demonstrate. Then I would repeat the command to the one I was working with. If I did not get the appropriate response, I disciplined her. I repeated the process until I received an immediate response. Depending on the child, some “come here nights” were short events—others were not. Be prepared to invest considerable time if necessary.

Teaching your child to come to you at a young age is training him not to yell “What?” from across the house, parking lot, playground or Sabbath services hall. When called, children should come close enough to a parent so more instructions or further discussion can take place.

“Come here” teaches children that self-control means there are times when they will be required to give up the thing they are doing in order to do something else.

3. Teach your child to respond positively to correction

Most children (and adults, for that matter) don’t like to be corrected. “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby,” the Apostle Paul wrote (Hebrews 12:11). All human beings need to be corrected. Correction, when done properly, always makes children’s (and adults’) lives better. Yet, as Paul says, correction is often hard to accept at first.

Your child should be taught not to respond to correction with anger or a bad attitude. Both of these responses are wrong and require additional discipline and teaching. Correction is a fact of life and, for the people of God, a way of life! Children must learn to follow rules, directions and instructions that are not their preference. They must have self-control to accept correction and direction from you and other authority figures that are sure to come into their lives.

When you discipline your child, make sure he responds with a good attitude and right behavior. Make it your goal to not finish a correction session until your child demonstrates a good attitude, repentance and right behavior. This requires love, patience, strong teaching and time—a lot of time—on your part. It will be worth all your effort. As Paul says, there will be great rewards when you meet this goal. Your child will be happier and on the road to real success. Remember, positive response to correction will help your child forever.

4. Encourage your child to take on activities that build self-discipline

As your child begins school, get him or her involved in sports or music lessons. All sports and musical instrument training require self-discipline. Sports and music are a major part of the curriculum in God’s educational institutions.

Teach your child to work. Performing work requires self-control. The work you assign your child should be age-appropriate. Be creative. Preschoolers can take care of pets. Elementary schoolchildren can do chores inside the home and outside in the yard. Children should be taught to clean their bedrooms and keep them clean. Jobs teach children responsibility. Responsibility is doing the right thing when no one else is watching.

Memorizing scripture is also a valuable self-discipline builder.

Be sure that your child stays on a daily schedule throughout the year. Your children should be taught to get ample sleep—going to bed on time and getting up early. Many children battle parents to stay up late at night. Parents must win that battle and get them in bed. Going to bed and getting up on time requires self-discipline.

Realize that self-discipline is a primary character trait that your child must have to be a success in this life and the wonderful World Tomorrow. Teaching self-discipline is your greatest challenge. Yet, in the process, you will become more self-disciplined yourself.

This year we traveled to the Feast on an airplane, with a Church family with small children—and there was peace and tranquility! I was actually able to study and reflect on the most important Feast days of the year. What a pleasure it was to be in the company of well-trained children.

Take the challenge to teach your child self-control!